Friday, August 18, 2006

Ten Things You Can Do To Better the Lives of Younger Women

Ten Things You Can Do to Better the Lives of Younger Women

1.) Know Your Body. Ask your doctor questions. Regularly check up on developments for health that are related to women. Know what contraception is best for your needs. And if something doesn’t feel right, change it. Learn as much information as you can about your body. Learn whether the HPV vaccine is right for you. But beyond all of that, learn to know what feels best for you body. Figure out what makes it happy and then go for it.

2) Study Hard. If you are a student, work hard while in school, if you’re out of school continue learning new skills. Financial stability is a necessity for younger women, and education is one way to ensure that happens. By being capable of earning your own income, you will feel less pressured to get married for financial reasons. You will have more options and independence if you know you can support yourself. You don’t need a degree or a certificate to dramatically increase your earning potential. The job markets that are growing the fastest are those require vocational training. However, economic circumstances can prevent women from reaching those goals and leaves doors closed. One way to ensure that younger women everywhere can reach financial stability is by working to increase financial aid opportunities as well as to decrease the debt load felt by many younger women who are committed to getting an education.

3) Play Hard. Women who play sports report higher levels of self esteem, are more likely to graduate from college, and receive numerous health benefits. Besides, you get the support you need from a team environment and you learn how to compete in a healthy and constructive way. If you’re still in school start now. Eighty percent of the women leaders in Fortune 500 companies played sports when they were younger. If you’re done with school play sports anyway, adult sport venues like the golf course, tennis course, and local YWCA are great ways to make professional contacts and network. Kick around a soccer ball, go kayaking, join your local hiking group. It might be the key to healthier leader-you!

4) Consume Wisely. Younger women are one of the most sought after consumer groups in the world. As a result, younger women can use this collective buying power as a serious tool for activism. Take for example the work of the young women who organized a “girlcott” against Abercrombie and Fitch for selling blatantly sexist t-shirts. They were able to change company policy. You can also use your buying power to positively support companies and organizations that also support younger women. Don’t shop at places like Target, Walmart, CVS or other pharmacies that don’t guarantee access to contraception. Don’t buy products that use images of younger women in demeaning or objectifying ways just to sell. Buy into something positive instead, like companies with ad campaigns that specifically support younger women instead of objectify them.

5). Stand Up for Younger Women! Sexual harassment can make any space feel unsafe. Walking to your job, at work, riding the subway, and just walking down the street can become harrowing and threatening experiences. When you are in the position of being harassed, it can be harder to speak up and say in a calm voice to “stop disrespecting women.” It can make all the difference in the world if a passerby offers support instead of just ignoring the situation. I was riding public transportation with some friends and when other passengers made comments about my body. Instead of saying something cutting and witty or even expletive-ridden, my friends pretended that the situation wasn’t occurring. Their silence made it that much harder for me to say anything. Worse, by ignoring the situation, they ignored my feelings of discomfort and fury at being called out for being a woman.

6) Abolish Slavery. Despite what you may have learned in history class, slavery is not simply a cruelty of the past. It is a living and brutal reality for the estimated 27 million people still held as slaves around the world. Many of these slaves are younger women who are trafficked and sold across country lines as young wives, housekeepers, or forced to work in brothels. Ending human trafficking and abolishing slavery once and for all is one of the most important steps you can take in order to help younger women across the Globe. Read the stories of ex-slaves, talk to your friends, go to a rally, send money, or commit yourself full time. Don’t stand by and do nothing.

7) Run for Office. The United States ranks 58th for representation of women around the world. It is not enough to simply try and influence the existing policy makers, who everyday make decisions that impact the lives of younger women. Running for office allows you to stay informed, stand up for what you believe in, and actually make a difference. More importantly, you would have the opportunity to create solutions instead of just reacting to the ideas that others have proposed. Support organizations that are working for change like The White House Project and Fair Fund.

8) Make Your Own Headlines. The standard view of the media is that women are collectively tall, tittylicious, skinny, opinionless, mostly white, and able to buy their way into happiness. These images of women are coupled with a news media that ignores the experience of women and provides a narrow world view. With less than 8% of the guests on Sunday morning news talk shows being female, it is necessary to make your headlines. Access to information is key. Creating new avenues for information to be disseminated? Priceless. So make your own blog, start a podcast, or get yourself booked on Sunday morning talk shows on your local cable channel. Heck, even start your own tv show. Making your voice heard by making your own headline.

9) Support LGBT Rights. Working towards full equal rights for LGBT people is necessary. Campaign to have “gender expression” added to the no-harassment clause in your workplace. Make your home a LGBT safe space. Treat your girlfriend well. Support candidates that support full marriage equality. Challenging LGBT discrimination means challenging some of society’s barriers about gender, especially about gender roles. Working to eliminate those barriers helps all women, regardless of whom they love.

10) Join YWTF! Okay, so this seems like a shameless plug, but it is true. In order to help younger women, you should support organizations that are dedicated to furthering the rights of younger women. Joining YWTF gives you the opportunity to join the women’s movement by working on issues that matter the most to you. It will give you the space, the resources, and the community to support those things that help younger women but haven’t been added to lists like these.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Glance Into the Worlds of Non-Profits

When I first came to YWTF as an intern, Deva had me write a short “bio” about myself. I remember writing that I was “interested in the balance between activism and feminist theory” and that I wanted to “further my experience in feminism” through the internship. After the past week, in which I did some career shadowing with several successful younger women, I have a new perspective on what exactly I mean when I say that there must be that balance between what we think is right and what we do to achieve it.

During each day’s career shadowing, I experienced a different type of activism on behalf of women. On Monday I visited the American Association of University Women (AAUW) which focuses on achieving equity between men and women in university settings and, though few would deny that this is an admirable goal, AAUW is one of the leading organizations that acts to fulfill it. Moreover, AAUW doesn’t have just one method of operating: their activism spans from research and lobbying to chapter activism and financially assisting women to gain higher education.

On Tuesday I shadowed at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), an organization that, some argue, is based more on theory and books than on action. Yet, from what I saw and read during my stay, IWPR is an invaluable resource for the gender activist community. The sheer volume of research and studies that IWPR circulates is astonishing, and the results that come from such publications even more amazing. Senators and House representatives have been known to change their stances on issues simply from reading IWPR’s “Status of Women in the United States” reports, not to mention the value of just collecting and disseminating information about women’s equality, or lack thereof. Sure, IWPR may not often lobby or do other more conventional political activism, but their research is the backbone of countless other groups’ platforms, on the Hill and elsewhere. IWPR’s collaboration with many women’s organizations, in fact, is yet more proof that women can and do work together.

Speaking of women working (excuse the awkward and cheesy transition), on Wednesday I visited Women Work! The National Network for Women’s Employment. (And yes, Women Work! usually has an exclamation mark after it, like Jeopardy! but so as not to confuse my computer or my readers, I’ll leave it off.) Women Work operates in two different and seemingly opposing ways. They not only lobby and advocate for political issues, but they also work at the ground level to offer job training and education to women. It was inspiring for me to see how Women Work can deal with both politicians and the women they help, without privileging one over the other (if anything, the women themselves are the ones privileged over the politicians!). Women Work advocates for women to get the vocational training they need to get better jobs and to succeed, and if that’s not activism, I don’t know what is!

Now, although I learned a lot in all of the places I career shadowed, Thursday was probably the most enlightening experience of the week. At the same time, it was the most unnerving, and it left me really considering what to do with my gender activism in the future. I career shadowed with the director of Digital Sisters. I would say that I shadowed at Digital Sisters, but in this case, there was no solid location, no air-conditioned business office – this was the kind of activism that really gets you in the field and allows you to see the effects of your efforts . We visited two places, both impoverished areas where Digital Sisters offers technical education so that people can get better jobs. Digital Sisters goes to the heart of the problem – to the housing projects and the homeless shelters – to help get people off the streets and off drugs and into successful careers.

As I looked upon settings so different from the office buildings to which I was accustomed, I wondered about my own activism: was I doing enough to really reach individual women? I had the right ideas, but how was I translating them into action? And as for my future, how could I reconcile my hoped-for career as a professor with being an activist for women (and men) in hardship?

I still don’t have the answers to these questions, but with time (and experience) I think I will. For now, I’ve at least experienced activism in a myriad of ways, from the halls of the House to community streets. Each women’s organization has a different method, maybe even a different demographic, but the mission is similar: to advocate for and better the lives of women.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Happy Birthday, NOW!

Birthdays conjure up images of birthday cake, party hats, streamers, and happy memories. However, there is always that one kid crying in the corner because none of the other children at the party want to play the same game. Charlotte Hays, from the Independent Women’s Forum, was channeling that same petulant child in her op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on NOW’s 40th birthday celebration. While her op-ed raises some good points, the majority of her criticism is packaged in a way that is fundamentally damaging to women everywhere, not just those who consider themselves feminists.

For example, she opens her article with a jibe at the way that the women and men at the conference were dressed. Is it really necessary in this day and age to criticize women first and foremost on how they look? Furthermore, she also equated “radical” (in a negative sense) with the idea of being open to people of varying sexual orientations. She writes, “[e]very resolution was relentlessly hammered out until there was no possible way that LGBT people (LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) could feel excluded; there was an "equal marriage" pretend-wedding reception with punch and cake.” With the majority of the country favoring some form of equality for same-sex couples, equal marriage is hardly the bastion of radical liberal behavior for which it has been ostracized. On the contrary (and maybe this is just because I'm from Massachusetts), celebrating equal marriage with a reception seems like a fairly logical step in support of one of the main tenets of the organization.

Some of Hays' characterizations were simply inaccurate. She writes that “even the music hasn't changed” about the inclusion of folk singer Sally Repp (whom I admittedly have never heard of, but I bet my parents have.) She neglected to include Ani Difranco, a feminist force of the younger set.

Hays also argued that “[s]till, NOW felt just a bit . . . tired. Whatever you think of the feminist movement--and I happen to deplore most of it--the women who got it started were forces of nature, interesting people with strong personalities.” She thinks that the current leaders of NOW don’t have the same energy or spark necessary to fuel the movement. This is a subtle point. At first glance, I would actually tend to agree with her. But that doesn’t mean that the feminist movement has lost its leadership or its luster. Rather, the leadership and forces have multiplied so much that the media can’t pinpoint just one of them. For example, for me, my mother was that force of life that inspires me to be a feminist. So was my father. So was my sister. So was my best friend. Honestly, so was Xena. The leadership of the feminist movement cannot be reduced simply to the officers of NOW or other professional feminist organizations.

She criticized that “(past NOW) president Karen de Crow, with her leonine white mane--dancing to Ms. Rapp's chorus line, ‘We’re Marching With Molly Yard,’ was a caution for us all about growing old gracefully.” What’s the point of growing old gracefully when you can instead celebrate by dancing and eating cake? Hays' anti-older feminist bias, seen throughout her piece, is something that younger women should caution themselves against. While the movement should rightly be taken to task for not taking the issues of younger women seriously, younger women should look to learn from and work with older women. For example, even many of the issues that are considered to be near and dear to older women’s hearts (pay equity, the Equal Rights Ammendment, affordable child care) are all issues that younger women can learn and benefit from (even the ERA!). Likewise, the issues that are more important to younger women (dating violence, media justice, and student’s rights) are also important and relevant to older women. By learning from and combining the strengths of each generation, the women’s movement will ultimately be more successful.

Hays further wrote, “[b]ut some of the decline is simply that there is no new blood there.” It’s far more complicated than that. The decline facing the women’s movement is the lack of cohesion between the younger women leaders and the older generation. Also, the women’s movement is considered to be declining because younger women leaders simply don’t register as leaders. Hays simply wasn’t looking hard enough. The new blood is all around her, especially if you look around your most recent YWTF meeting.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Gender Activist Bibliography - Part 2!

Here is my Part 2 to Dara's first installment of the Gender Activist Bibliography. I would say that I painstakingly rated these books from 1-20, but that would be a lie, so please note that there's no particular order, and enjoy!

This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Writings by Women of Color
Edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga

This is one of those books that absolutely changes your life. I first read it in my Introduction to Women’s Studies class, and since then, This Bridge’s beauty, conviction, and ideas have followed me. Anzaldúa and Moraga offer a moving anthology of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and essays. The authors, including big names like Audre Lorde and Trinh T. Minh-ha, break away from the stiff and patriarchal methods of writing, expressing themselves in whichever way is most comfortable while still giving compelling testimonies. The authors of This Bridge challenge the readers to examine their own lives: to realize how they too are implicated in racism and sexism, and to change themselves. Read this book with an open mind and be ready to be critical toward both yourself and the world around you, and you will have a truly enlightening experience. Disclaimer: don’t read this book if you’re complacent and unwilling to change your mind and your life.

Making Face, Making Soul / Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color
Edited by Gloria Anzaldúa

Making Face, Making Soul is almost like a Part 2 to This Bridge Called My Back. It furthers the dialogue of women of color and offers even more challenges to its readers. Not only that, but the prose and style of this anthology are exquisite and lasting. Just look at a few of the section titles to get an idea: Still Trembles Our Rage in the Face of Racism: There is War, Some Losses can’t be Counted; (De)Colonized Selves: Finding Hope Through Horror; and If You Would Be My Ally: In Alliance, In Solidarity. While both This Bridge and Making Face do not often offer tangible solutions to the problems of white supremacy and racism, they challenge the reader to make her own solutions, and to fight for people of color, either as a member or as an ally. The best thing about this anthology, however, is the hope. Shining through anger, frustration, confusion, and lingering after critical revelations, the hope and the inspiration in Making Face, Making Soul is tangible.

Radical Feminism Today
By Denise Thompson

From what excerpts Amazon has offered me, I can say that this book looks to be an interesting critical interpretation of feminism. When it comes to theory, however, it is not for the faint of heart. Reading Radical Feminism Today is much like reading dense philosophical texts: the ideas are great, but are sometimes difficult to understand, at least on the first read. Nevertheless, this seems like a book that would be engaging for modern feminist scholars, and would at least illicit a reaction of either agreement or disagreement. In Radical Feminism Today, Thompson seeks to define feminism, accusing many feminists of skirting actual explanations. One promising definition that Thompson gives is: “Feminism aims to expose the reality of male domination, while struggling to expose a world where women are recognized as human beings in their own right.” I can agree with that. I admit that I’m a little wary that Thompson “points to the limitations of implicitly defining feminism in terms of ‘women,’ ‘gender,’ ‘difference,’ or ‘race/gender/class.’ I’m also wary of any book that claims itself to be ‘controversial.’ Then again, as feminism is continuously evolving, it doesn’t hurt to be ‘controversial’ once in a while, and I anticipate at least perusing Radical Feminism Today in the future.

Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It
By Martha Burk

Don’t you hate when men and women say to you, “there’s no need for feminism anymore: women and men are equal now” and “there is no more discrimination”? Well here’s a book that you can politely but firmly ask them to read before continuing that sentiment. Martha Burk writes a gripping eye-witness account of severe discrimination that still exists, even if it is more covert. The book is centered around the Augusta National controversy, using the “resulting firestorm” as evidence for a larger epidemic. “Cult of Power is an in-depth account stemming from the initial controversy, written by the woman who was at its center. Burk lays bare the reasons the closed gates of Augusta National symbolize all the ways women are still barred from the highest echelons of power—in government, social and religious organizations, and most important, in corporate America—and why we must change the system.” Take that, nay-sayers!

Eleanor Roosevelt, Volumes 1 and 2
By Blanche Wiesen Cook

The best part of this book is the fact that it’s a feminist perspective in the often male-dominated world of biographies. Avoiding the patriarchal lens, Cook offers honest insight into Eleanor’s independence, grace, and achievements. In the preface, Cook writes, “I am proud to be part of this movement that removed women from the margins of our culture and placed them at the center of their own lives, and our field of vision.” The first volume covers the years 1884-1933, including Eleanor’s family, childhood, education, and marriage; the second volume, years 1930-1933-1938, begins at Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency and covers Eleanor’s determination and many accomplishments. This is definitely a book (or rather, two volumes) for feminists searching for political inspiration.

Unfinished Work: Building Democracy and Equality in an Era of Working Families
Edited by Jody Heymann and Christopher Beem

Here’s a read for all your policy-minded folks. Unfinished Work is a great anthology for all those interested in the politics and policies surrounding family and the workplace, with an emphasis on women. In fact, it’s good information for anyone wanting to have a family and work too in an American society in which this combination seems increasingly impossible. “Unfinished Work provides invaluable insights into the lack of an effective national response to the challenges faced by working families today, and offers solutions from leading thinkers in labor, public policy, sociology, economics, history, ethics, family studies, social work, and political science.” Woo, that’s a long list! But the broad scope of Unfinished Work is what makes it seem both revolutionary and effective.

50 Ways to Improve Women’s Lives: The Essential Women’s Guide to Achieving Equality, Health, and Success
Edited by the National Council of Women’s Organizations

The topics in this collection are endless: sexual health, work and family balance, higher education, networking, mentoring, advocacy, community-building, international women’s issues, and more. Personally, I haven’t had a chance to read 50 Ways yet, but I plan to! The National Council of Women’s Organizations has harvested compelling articles from leading women in many areas, from academia to politics to nonprofit organizations. And don’t worry – just because the Younger Women’s Task Force is under NCWO doesn’t mean this is a shameless plug – the book really does look good!

Letters to a Young Feminist
Phyllis Chessler

This may, at first, seem like a patronizing attempt to bridge the intergenerational gap. However, while there are some parts where it feels like Chessler is your mother, it’s not in a “oh look at you, you amatuer feminist” way. Chessler cares enough about the future of feminism to write candidly about the realities of feminism and the dangers it faces now. She explains how feminism was and is and should be, particularly in a way that would be useful to early and/or young feminists (hence the title – and by “young” it seems that she means “new”). The following statement is one that I want to say to the many people who tell me feminism is no longer necessary: “Darling, I don’t want to frighten you away, but I don’t want to waste your time either, so I can’t pretend that simply because you or I want it to be so that men and women are equal.” Exactly.

A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: American Women Speak Out on Eating Problems
By Becky W. Thompson

So much of our discussion about eating problems today is biased. We make the mistake of thinking that only well-off, white, heterosexual women obsessed with the media’s portrayal of beauty can have eating problems. In A Hunger So Wide and So Deep, however, Becky Thompson explores the experiences of women of color as well as white women, both lesbian and heterosexual. “She argues that many women turn to food—bingeing, dieting, purging, or starving—as a sensible means of coping with physical and psychic ‘atrocities’ deriving from ‘racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, the stress of acculturation, and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.’” This is a book that tells us the disturbing and deep-seated realities of eating problems from a multicultural standpoint. It may not be the most cheerful of reads, but it’s important knowledge for readers who care about women.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions
By Gloria Steinem

This is one of those books that I’ve heard about several times but never gotten around to actually reading. I can say, however, that after glancing at just the Table of Contents on Amazon, I want to run out and grab a copy right now. Titles that seem especially interesting are “I Was a Playboy Bunny” (really?) “In Praise of Women’s Bodies” and “Men and Women Talking.” If you won’t read this just to see if Steinem’s serious about the playboy bunny thing, then read it because she’s one of the truly great thinkers of the feminist movement. This may be her first collection of feminist essays, but it’s still good.

Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black
By bell hooks

This book by bell hooks may not be as popular as Feminism is for Everybody but it is just as powerful, with ideas that are similarly revolutionary yet easy to understand. Talking Back focuses more on hooks’ personal experiences: about her community, how she overcame racism, her methods of teaching, and more. Throughout the collection of hooks’ essays runs an unspoken theme that words are power to black women. The title Talking Back references how young black girls in hooks’ hometown were often punished for being outspoken, and in response, hooks uses this book to “talk back” triumphantly.

Zami, a New Spelling of My Name
Audre Lorde

“Zami, a carriacou name for women who work together as friends and lovers.” Just the definition of “zami” makes me want to read this book. Zami is basically the self-told story of Audre Lorde’s life, a genre which she entitles (instead of autobiography) a “biomythography.” Lorde, an African-American lesbian feminist, takes the reader through her different identities and transformations, explaining how she has come to reconcile these many important identities. It seems as though Zami is not only Lorde’s journey through life, but a journey on which Lorde takes her readers.

Don’t Bet on a Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England
Edited by Jack Zipes

In the mood for a little whimsy without the damsel-in-distress? Well here’s the book for you. Jack Zipes presents a collection of tales written by authors like Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, and Anne Sexton. These authors focus not on weak, helpless damsels, but on powerful female role models and archetypes. Knowing the influence that stories have on young children’s perceptions, Zipes decided to compile stories that empowered them (especially girls) rather than perpetuating patriarchal stereotypes. “Don’t Bet On a Prince was created out of dissatisfaction with the dominant male discourse of traditional fairy tales and with the sexist social values and institutions which it supports.” Sounds like a good idea to me. And not only are these stories suitable for children (more suitable than, say, Sleeping Beauty), they’re also a light, intriguing read for adults (who will particularly enjoy the subtle humor and satire in many of the stories).

The Good Body
By Eve Ensler

As if we didn’t have enough people scrutinizing and trying to control our bodies, now Eve Ensler reminds us that we too are waging war with our bodies: “It’s as if they’ve been given their own little country called their body, which they get to tyrannize, clean up, and control while they lose all sight of the world.” And yes, even us feminists suffer from these delusions of power. However, Ensler tells us, we can change all that. With her typical sarcastic and wholly satisfying humor, Ensler gives us a different collection of “monologues” that are just as inspiring. So go ahead, have your cake and eat it too (seriously, eat it).

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us
By Kate Bornstein

This book is an intimate autobiography detailing the struggles and triumphs of a transgendered woman. “[T]his particular coming-of-age story is also a fascinating and deeply provocative investigation into our notions of male and female, the myths attached to them, and the penalties that befall not only those who transgress the definitions but anyone who blindly conforms to them.” Bornstein challenges the notions of gender in a candid and humorous way, inviting her readers to consider a world without the constrictions of a binary gender system. And the best part about this book is that it’s an interesting read – instead of being bogged down with lengthy discussions of identity politics, Bornstein writes about her own identities, and the philosophy follows.

Ariel: the Perennial Classics Edition
By Sylvia Plath

The last book of poetry that Sylvia Plath wrote and compiled before her suicide, Ariel contains some of Plath’s most well-written and captivating poems. Her style and content together are intriguing, and the reader experiences vicariously both Plath’s despair and her ability to capture a moment at its finest. This Perennial Classics edition of Ariel is particularly important because it recreates the collection as Plath had originally intended. Upon her death, Ted Hughes, her husband, took out over a dozen poems, while rearranging the poems’ order, before submitting the collection for publishing. Now, however, we see Ariel as Plath would have wished us to read it.

Women Write: A Mosaic of Women’s Voices in Fiction, Poetry, Memoir and Essay
Edited by Susan Cahill

If, like me, you ever wished that there was a collection of strong women’s writing, here it is. Women Write seems like it is truly a monument to women writers, showcasing some of the best talent and insight all the way from the 1600s onward. Some of the authors include: Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Anne Bradstreet, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Mary Shelley, and many more. Also, as I was going through the Table of Contents, I noticed that not only is this anthology a mosaic of types of writing, but it is also a mosaic of women from all different backgrounds and histories. As a literature and women’s studies major, this book looks perfect for me, and I’m excited to read it; it also looks perfect for anyone interesting in women and writing.

Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century
Edited by Justine Larbalestier

It often seems to me as though there isn’t enough feminist science fiction (and discussion of it) out there, besides Judith Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin and a few other authors. Even when I searched “feminist science fiction” on Amazon, there wasn’t much to show for it. These two reasons, and more, are why Daughters of Earth is such an important book for young women. Justine Larbalestier teams 11 powerful science fiction stories with 11 equally as powerful critical essays and insights, combining fiction and criticism into one great science fiction anthology. After all, “[w]omen’s contributions to science fiction over the past century have been lasting and important, but critical work in the field has only just begun to explore its full range.” I’d like to add one more significant accomplishment of Daughters of Earth: Larbalestier’s anthology brings attention to women in science fiction, period.

Talking Up: Young Women’s Take on Feminism
Edited by Rosamund Else-Mitchell and Naomi Flutter

Oftentimes we in the women’s movement focus so much on past achievements that we forget our movement is still evolving. Talking Up is therefore refreshing simply because it is full of young voices, voices that haven’t been heard yet but have great ideas to share. The young women authors in this collection share their experiences with learning, living, and sharing feminism. Topics range from women’s studies classrooms, to sex, to family. And although Talking Up features only young authors, there is still engaging discussion on the generations within the movement and how we can reconcile differences in order to forge ahead.

Letters of Intent: Women Cross the Generations to Talk About Family, Work, Sex, Love and the Future of Feminism
Edited by Anna Bondoc and Meg Daly

This book is so important in an era in which feminism is harshly divided into 2nd and 3rd wavers. Letters of Intent is an intimate collection of letters between new and established gender activists, containing such pairings as Amy Richards and Gloria Steinem, and Emily Gordon and Katha Pollitt. Like the members of YWTF, “[t]he authors in this section are deeply committed to social change yet refuse to follow a prescribed activist formula. Their exchanges with seasoned activists illuminate what activism is and could be.” Letters of Intent is yet another book from my gender activist list that I’ll have to read soon, for it speaks so well to older and younger activists alike. Not only that, but it seems like a truly enthralling read.

Well, that's the end of my Gender Activist Bibliography (Part 2!) and I hope you found some good books to read. And feel free to add to the list yourselves!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gender Activist Bibliography

Introducing Feminism, 2nd Edition

This collection provides an interesting review of history, complete with witty black and white pictures, often featuring cut outs of women talking to each other about feminist ideas. The book offers a history of the movement (mostly defining the movement as something that happened exclusively in the Western Hemisphere) as well as attempts a basic introduction to key concepts such as pornography, pregnancy, and pay equity. Introducing Feminism has the feel of zine which makes it cute, funky and much more engaging. The cover is cute and would look smashing on any bookshelf. At the end of the day, however, the book falls short in terms of depth. Plus, it seems to treat feminism as something that ended in the ‘80’s—it is in need of a serious update!

After Shock: September 11, 2001: Global Feminist Perspectives

After 9/11, it was supposed to be the end of irony and the opening of a new world order. Commentary and predictions flew wildly around the globe. However, feminist voices were largely excluded from the post 9/11 conversation. Editors Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter bring together a wide range of views that uncover the connections between war, terrorism, fundamentalism, racism, global capitalism, and male violence. The first line of what promises to be a promising book reads :”Light explodes inside the skull do hours weep?,” opening with a powerful poem titled “who’s terrorism?” Including immediate reactions and more recent reflections, this collection contains essays, speeches, letters to the U.N. and to George Bush, emails, and poetry, addressing 9/11 with much-needed clarity and passion. Contributors include Barbara Kingsolver, Arundhati Roy, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eve Ensler, Ani di Franco, and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. The range of ideas in this book seems fascinating and highly worth reading. A book that includes material both with Ani di Franco and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan? I’m there. Check it out!

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series) by Audre Lorde

This is prose that gets under your skin and into your head. Audre Lorde writes beautifully about the struggles of being black, woman, lesbian, feminist and a mother. She transforms the personal in the political and back again. If you are looking for some consciousness raising, inspiring, and honest words - then this is the book that will bring that to you. This book contains the famous “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and other crucial essays that are guaranteed to sock you in the gut, bring you down to your knees, and then inspire you to get back on your feet and start marching and dancing away the patriarchy.

The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power by Audre Lorde,

I will admit to never reading this book. However, I have always wanted to pick it up. In this collection Lorde talks elegantly and passionately about how to harness the erotic as a force powerful enough to change the world. While I might disagree with her construction of femininity as something essential, I still think that whatever she has to say will be thought provoking and valuable. Plus, the publisher has packaged this essay in such a way that once you finish reading the essay, you can tuck it into the included envelope and mail it to a friend.

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf

I used to sneak into my sister’s bedroom and rummage through her bookshelf whenever I ran out of things to read. “The Beauty Myth” has been placed prominently in a central part of her shelf for as long as I can remember. I regret never picking it up. In this book, Wolf argues on behalf of a rather simple thesis—that the image of beauty in Western (mostly US) culture is destructive and dangerous to women. However, she infuses this book with compelling statistics and stories in order to earn it’s place as a classic in the contemporary feminist canon. This dangerous “beauty myth” impacts women’s lives in nearly every way, ranging from the workplace to sexuality to religion. Although it can seem out of date in places, this is still a valuable read in that makes interesting link between profit and women’s insecurity.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan,

This book has been declared to reach the same importance as nearly as the Book of Moses in terms of feminist history. Personally, I never read it until I had to pick it up for school—interestingly, not for any of my women’s studies classes but rather for an English class titled “American Protest Literature: From Tom Paine to Tupac.” Betty Friedan begins by writing that the “problem lay buried, unspoken in the minds of American women.” It was the problem that “had no name.” However, while this book does a valuable service in detailing the lives of privileged Smith graduates and the difficulty they faced in their post-college lives, the book has been inflated to be representative of every woman in America. The book has rightly been criticized as being racist and classist. However, the book is an interesting read, and for many people who haven’t delved deep into academic feminist theory, it can be life-changing. At any rate, it’s a fast read so you might as well pick it up.

Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation by Barbara Findlen

One person criticized the feminist movement as “Every Feminist knows one of the biggest internal and external criticisms of the movement: it is too exclusive. Too white, too middle-to-upper-class, too limited to past decades when Feminism was "needed". In short, the argument runs something like this: if Feminism is not indeed dead, it is too exclusive to attract most people.” This book is written in order to wrench open the feminist ranks and let more and more people in. Accordingly, this anthology has authors that range from different ethnicities, sexualities, races, political persuasions, from victims of rape, mothers, and teenage girls. It is a book that is meant to speak to that ambiguous third wave that has confused feminist activists in recent times. Some of these essays are powerful, most of them are at least interesting, but often times the essays come off as childish and limited. In part because the book tries so hard to be so inclusive, it lacks the sock it to you punch of other feminist works. In short, it’s just too nice and friendly to be truly revolutionary.

Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards

This book attempts to marry the Second Wave feminists with those kicking at the door in 2006. It is a very historical text and in the later chapters it begins to delve into possible strategies for younger feminists. Specifically, it attempts to reinforce the idea that cultural feminism (girl power, Spice Girls, green nailpolish, high heels) is an important political force. They advocate making the politics more explicit by getting reengaged in the feminist movement collectively. However, the book loses a lot of its punch in that it is too even-handed. It is very polite to older feminists (despite some insistence that they are ageist and don’t take younger feminists seriously) and equally as generous to younger feminists that aren’t politically seriously engaged. The author’s have a difficult time making a stand, and that wishy-washiness does more to split apart the movement than bring it together.

Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism Leslie Heywood, Jennifer Drake

This is a slightly more academic text that attempts to deal with a similar issue as Manifesta. Namely, what to do about this nebulous idea of the Third Wave? The book offers a collection that ranges from “Roseanne: Killer “Bitch” for Generation X” and “We Learn America Like a Script: Activism in the Third Wave or Enough Phantoms of Nothing.” The writing is dense and it seems to be less practical than I was hoping. The “doing feminist” part of the title seems to be largely “doing” in the sense of theorizing about things that have happened in the past. If you are looking for some new and, in some cases, innovative theoretical essays, this is a good place to start. If you are looking for a practical primer on how to deal with the ambiguities facing feminism today, look elsewhere.

Changing the Face of Power: Women in the U.S. Senate
By Melina Mara

Unlike most of the books included in this bibliography, this book is mostly pictures instead of text. It offers a range of stunning portraits and candid shots that feature the 14 female senators at work. The interviews were conducted by Helen Thomas, and if any of you saw the now famous clip of her and Stephen Colbert, that is reason enough to buy this book. However, the most compelling reason to buy this book is that the pictures are shocking, insightful and provide a never before seen look into the lives of these senators.

Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism by Daisy Hernandez (Editor), Bushra Rehman (Editor)

This book accomplishes the rare feat of being readable and challenging in both the “real world” and an academic context. This is a collection of essays from a range of women of color (Chicana, indigenous American Indian, Arab, and more) about the intersection between contemporary feminism and racism. This book is divided into four sections: family and community; mothers; cultural customs; and talking back to white feminists, men, mothers, liberals, and others. The book and it’s radical, radicalized tone could be off-putting to some who are not in position where they can analyze their own privilege. Indeed, the book should be off putting to all those that are in some privileged category. However, it is that edge of discomfort that makes this book so valuable and more likely to actually build a movement than some of the other more sanitized feminist texts.

Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity by Chandra Talpade Mohanty

This book has been assigned to me no less than five times. It is pretty much the basis of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at Harvard. And despite all of that, I am ashamed to say that I’ve never actually managed to get through the whole text because it was so overwhelmingly boring. Additionally, I was frustrated with many of her solutions for solving the problems of reductionism, colonialism, and capitalist-based theory in mainstream feminist work. Most of her solutions only addressed the academic side of feminist life, and never seemed to get at real life. Additionally, in her first chapter “Under Western Eyes,” she writes that people need to be having different conversations with each other in order to undo the subject/object dichotomy. Which is all well and good, but she never gets into the mechanics of what that conversation would actually look like. That being said, I only did read about half of the book, so the words of another reviewer should give a more complete and balanced perspective : Feminism Without Borders is an excellent book, one of the best I have ever read. Mohanty is a strong advocate of a transformative, economically and socially just feminist politics. She defines herself as an anti-racist, anti-capitalist feminist. Her feminist vision is one of a truly free world where every person can enjoy true equality, security, and integrity, where there is "economic stability, ecological sustainability, racial equality, and the redistribution of wealth..." (3). In short, if you have a slight interest in feminist theory, this is a crucial book that has become the foundation for current thinking in feminist thought.

Toward a Feminist Theory of the State by Catharine A. MacKinnon

Catharine MacKinnon is the epitome of the “love her or hate her” school of thought. In this book, she begins with an analysis of Marx and Engels and locates the tensions between Marxism and feminism. She then continues on to discuss a host of feminist issues (abortion, pornography, et cetera). She has been criticized as a misogynist, a man hater and a general misanthrope. She has also been declared to be one of the most brilliant contemporary legal theorists. Regardless of what you think of her views, her book is an engaging and interesting read. MacKinnon is a brilliant manipulator of language (on occasion at the expense of argument), and each sentence is written in a beautiful and rhythmic way. In addition to the other accusations, MacKinnon has also been accused as being anti-sex. However, after reading her work—laced with erotic undertones and sensual imagery, it becomes clear that MacKinnon is not anti-sex—simply anti-sex as a tool of oppression. And even though I am a nerd for political theory, this is a fun book for any one to read because at its most basic it is a sexy and provocative treatise.

Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism by Jennifer Baumgardner, Amy Richards

Grassroots is written by the same authors of Manifesta. Grassroots is a much more practical application of the thoughts that were first laid out in Manifesta, and in that sense I found it much more refreshing. This book, however, is still not going to solve all of the problems in the feminist movement, and leaves much to be desired. First off, the book occasionally suffers from a “holier than thou” attitude and can be off-putting. Additionally, there is a serious lack of self-analysis from what it means that this guide is coming from two affluent white women. However, the book does provide a valuable list of resources in the index, and from there you can use it as a jumping off point to fueling your own personal brand of activism. The fundamental message of the book is “any one can do it” and despite its flaws, the book does provide an activist (seasoned or budding) with the resources they need to get the job done.

The F-Word: Feminism In Jeopardy - Women, Politics and the Future by Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

One of the most challenging aspects of being a feminist is having reliable data to whip out whenever one is involved in the seemingly perpetual “but feminism is dead/irrelevant” conversations. This book provides an interesting analysis of some of the bread and butter feminist issues, including the glass ceiling effect and pay equity. The book is well-researched and easy to read and chockfull of useful statistics and anecdotes that can be casually (or not so casually) dropped into conversation. While the book can be criticized for only approaching “safe” “middle-ground” positions—leaving the stickier work of anti-racism, anti-classism and general all around revolution to others—it is still a valuable feminist resource for any gender activist.

The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World: Completely Revised and Updated by Joni Seager

The first sentence of this book is powerful: “To UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON in a world characterized by swift and often fundamental change, it is worth keeping your eye on power.” This Atlas does an excellent job of keeping tabs on important statistics affecting women around the globe. The pages are well laid-out and the information is easy to find. The graphs and charts are professional looking, but still visually appealing and simple enough that the book is a pleasure to read and flip through even if you are not looking up some specific information. While the Atlas is small and much of the information is basic, some of it is surprisingly in depth. The categories range from Women in the World, Families, Birthrights, Body Politics, Work, To Have and Have Not, and Power. It provides a valuable insight into the discrepancies in resources available between men and women, but also even more interestingly the discrepancies between women from different regions. The Atlas is definitely worth adding to your collection.

Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics Updated Edition with a New Preface by Cynthia Enloe

This book attempts to bring together a gender study with international politics and policy. It focuses on the affects on women when companies move factories abroad, the impact that bases have on local women (especially in regards to prostitution), and the ever-increasing tourism industry. Like any book that attempts to confront such a broad array of topics, this text is extremely long and can sometimes be difficult to trudge through. Also, the book focuses pretty much exclusively on the impact of gender, and leaves out a more intersectional perspective that would include race, class, and national privilege. However, she does provide an excellent perspective of feminism as an attack on they way that the world is presently constructed and built around oppression. Furthermore, this book provides a nice bridge between academic feminism and real world feminism. Her main point of “The personal is political, the personal is international” really resonates.

Who Cooked the Last Supper: The Women's History of the World by Rosalind Miles

This is an entertaining, informative look at the history of women throughout the globe. Miles’s history is written with a heavy dose of humor, wit, and you go, girl! anecdotes. Even when the history necessarily details oppression and persecution, she is still able to salvage inspiring stories of women who made a difference. The book is lively and filled with interesting facts about little known women who made a huge difference in history, but have largely been left out of the classroom. She talks about the woman who opened the first both control clinic, women warriors in Islam, and reveals that Florence Nightingale’s nickname was “Lady with a Hammer.” Read this book instead of some chic lit fluffy romance novel on the beach this summer. Or if you have to, read both!

Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by Bell Hooks

bell hooks is a warm and engaging writer. She is a pleasure to read, but if you take her words to heart, they can sometimes be painful and earth shattering. This book, however, is mostly warm and fuzzy and is a good text to read if you want to remind yourself (or others!) about the importance of feminism. She writes “A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving....There can be no love without justice.-from the chapter "To Love Again: The Heart of Feminism". Her work is inspiring and rooted in common sense and wisdom. However, maybe because I am cynical and jaded and looking for more of a punch, this book is a little too inspiring and optimistic. Regardless, it is worth checking out.

The Jewish Women's Awareness Guide: Connections for the 2nd Wave of Jewish Feminism by Janet Carnay, Ruth Ann Magder, Laura Wine Paster, Marcia Cohn Spiegel, Abigail Weinberg, Marcia C. Spiegel

As a Jew and as a feminist, I’ve often had difficulty trying to make harmony of two crucial aspects of my identity. Although I’ve managed to gain a deeper and stronger connection to both Judaism and feminism through my individual struggle of combing the two, having a handy resource book would have made my life a lot easier. And since I’m still struggling with many of the thornier issues, I’m delighted to have found one such guide in such an easy to use and basic format. For those who are planning on studying at yeshiva or have similarly entrenched themselves in Judaism, this might be too basic. For the rest of us, this is an excellent resource.

Organizing for Social Change: Midwest Academy : Manual for Activists by Kimberley A. Bobo, Steve Max, Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendall, Midwest Academy

This is a helpful, easy to use collection of tips and strategies on how to actually do the hard work of organizing. It teaches you how to run an effective meeting, how to approach an elected official, and offers strategies on how to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. In short, it is an invaluable guide for an activist dedicated to social justice. The only downside is that the book is pretty boring, since it is essentially just a tool kit and manual. Other than that, this book is a must.